pcDuino3 Nano Lite

pcduino3nanoliteOnly a few short years ago, the world was introduced to the Raspberry Pi, the $35 computer.  Its hard to image that a device that small can do so much, but it does.  That single device has seemed to have created a whole new market of single board computers.  We now have the Raspberry Pi 2, Banana Pi, Orange Pi, Beagle Bone, pcDuino, etc.  Most of these devices are based on the ARM processor.  Each device has its own set of specs and features, and that makes certain ones useful for certain projects, and others are better suited for others.

I picked up the pcDuino3 Nano Lite from Amazon for $15!  For the price I couldn’t pass up the chance at grabbing one and testing it out.  What makes this board unique is it supports gigabit ethernet and a SATA port.  The ethernet and SATA port are integrated into the Allwinner A20 chip, so it’s not an extra USB add on, so performance should be great.

Specs:

  • CPU: AllWinner A20 SoC, 1GHz ARM Cortex A7 Dual Core
  • GPU: OpenGL ES2.0, OpenVG 1.1, Mali 400 Dual Core
  • DRAM: 1GB
  • Onboard Storage: MicroSD card (TF) slot for up to 32GB
  • Arduino extension interface: Arduino sockets, same as Arduino UNO 14xGPIO, 2xPWM, 6xADC, 1xUART, 1xSPI, 1xI2C

I used a SanDisk Ultra 32 GB card from Amazon for only $10.  I really like using these cards because their fast and cheap.  I haven’t had any issues using this card in any of my devices whether its a camera or single board pc.

For the OS, I used Armbian.  There are 2 choices you can download, Legacy and Vanilla.  The difference between the 2 are what version of the kernel it uses.  I chose the Legacy jessie (Debian) because at the time, it had better hardware support.  The mainline kernel is progressing nicely, so by this time, vanilla might be a better choice.

Overall, I am very happy with the device.  It has been running rock solid for the last 5 months as a production server with no reboots.  The footprint is small, and power consumption is low, making it perfect for a mail server, nagios server or and other small uses.

Backyard Theater

I became interested in a backyard theater while camping. There was a guy there who had just a white sheet, DVD player and a projector. It was awesome, they (him and his family) sat by the campfire and watched movies all night. It reminded me of the old drive-ins, just watching movies in the night air.

After getting home, I set out to build a system of my own. I had a few basic ideas and must-haves.

  • Cheap – Get used or make parts
  • Portable – In case I want to take it camping or a friends house
  • Bright – I want it easy to see, even in the moonlight of a full moon
  • Simple – Easy to setup/take down

After spending about 5 seconds looking at prices of new projectors, it was clear that Ebay was the way to go. There were some great deals that could be had on Ebay, but like anything else, you need to do your research. With projectors, there are so many specs on them that it can make your head spin. I’ll go over the major ones to look at:

  • Brighness / Color Light Output – Rated in lumens, this is the amount of light coming from the projector. The bigger the better, but get at least 2000, anything less will seem dark and not work very well with other light, such as moonlight.
  • Resolution – This is the number of pixels that can be displayed. The higher the better, but I recommend at least 1024×768.

I found a Epson 3LCD LCD Projector PowerLite 85 H295A but it was listed as Non-Working/Parts and didn’t have a bulb in it, so I checked Ebay again to find out how much bulbs were and since they we cheap, I bought the unit.  After installing the new bulb, the unit ran perfect.

Next thing on my list was to create a video source for it since I didn’t want to lug around my DVD player everywhere I went.  My solution for this was to load up XBMC on the RaspberryPi and run my videos from there.  The only issue was the projector had a PC VGA input, so I picked up a 1080p Hdmi Male Input to VGA +Audio Output Cable Converter Adapter on Amazon.

For audio I needed something loud, so I used an old pair of computer speakers that had a amp and subwoofer built in.  It worked out perfect, the HDMI adapter had a 3.5 mm plug that plugged right in.

Last, but not least, I needed a screen.  I found Ron-Loc Budget Blackout Lining at Joann Fabric.  This heavy cloth reflects light well and prevents light from going through.  If you’re on a budget, a white sheet works well too.

Overall, I spent less then $200 on the system for those hot summer nights to watch our favorite movies outside.

Cisco CP-7912 IP Phone

Cisco CP7912
I acquired a couple of Cisco CP-7912 IP Phones to take apart and see how they work, because around here, we love old, broken hardware to learn from and experiment with.

The Cisco 7912 usually runs SCCP (Skinny Call Control Protocol) and is not very useful for our purposes because we run Asterisk with SIP based hardware.

After googling for a bit, I found SIP firmware for this model phone, CP7912080001SIP060412A.ZIP on Cisco’s site, but you need an account with them to download the file. If you don’t have an account, try googling the file name.

The firmware will be loaded from a TFTP server when it boots, so you will need to extract the zip file and place the 3 files from the zip file into the TFTP root folder. The files you need are:

gkdefault.txt
gkdefault.cfg
CP7912080001SIP060412A.sbin

Then you will need to set the TFTP servers IP address in the phone. There are 2 ways to do this, 1) set option 66 in the DHCP server, 2) set in phones network configuration menu.

To set the TFTP server IP address via the phones menu, go to Settings and then Network Configuration. Go down to TFTP Address and press **# to bring up the hidden edit menu.

The main problem I had with this phone was it was password protected, but I didn’t know the password. I tried the default password of 1234 but that didn’t work, so I had to factory reset it. While in the settings menu press **2 on the phones key pad (not all together, but one at a time).

After saving the TFTP IP Address, the phone will reboot. If you watch the TFTP servers log, you should see the phone downloading the files.

Conclusion:

It’s a nice 1 line, super easy phone. My biggest complaint is there is no speaker phone and SIP options are very limited. The phone does have keyhole openings in the back of the phone to make mounting on a wall real easy.

XBMC on Raspberry Pi

I have been playing around with the Raspberry Pi and XBMC a lot lately.  It has come a long was since it 1st came out.

I really like Openelec XBMC distro because it really does make the Raspberry Pi feel like an appliance since there is really almost no configuration necessary, it just works.  Most partitions are read-only, so if it crashes, you don’t have to worry.  But, that being said, it makes it a lot harder to tinker with.  I couldn’t get a GPIO remote to work and it was a pain to get other software installed on it.  It’s perfect if you have a USB remote sensor and you want to set it and forget it.

Raspbmc is another XBMC distro.  It is now on RC4 and its getting really good.  I like it a real lot.  Boot up times are not as good as Openelec, but since you boot it up once, then just let it go, it’s not a big deal.  It is based on Debian, so installing extra software is a breeze.  Also, since they have switched over to hardfp and other XBMC tweaks, it’s FAST!  Also, it comes with the lirc_rpi IR sensor kernel driver so getting a cheap ($1) remote sensor working was easy..

All in all, both distro’s are really coming along nice.  It’s impressive that the Raspberry Pi can do all that, or should I say it’s impressive with all the hard work that the developers did it get it to run on the Raspberry Pi.

SDR with $20 USB Dongle

You can now have a SDR (Software Defined Radio) for $20!  The dongle is receive only, but it can handle from 64 MHz to 1700 MHz.  It works in both Windows and Linux.

The dongle is actually a USB DVB-T TV receiver that uses the RTL2832 chipset along with a E4000/FC0012/FC0013 tuner.  The DVB-T is not supported in the US, but there are plenty on eBay and elsewhere.  Here is a list of supported devices.

There is a pretty active group over at Reddit that has been helping each other out.

I have successfully run it under Linux with GNU Radio and in Windows with HDSDR using Balint256 drivers.

You can also follow our findings with SDR via the Wiki.

Wisdom Alarm Project

We have started a new project to interface to the Risco Group Rokonet Wisdom Alarm panel via the RS485 port.

Here is a link to the Wiki page of the project.

So far the code can read partition labels, zone labels, zone status, panel status, arm and disarm.  There are so many unknowns at this time, but we have a great starting point.

We do not have any protocol documentation, so if you can help get some, that would be very helpful and would speed the process along significantly.

We are looking for developers to contribute to this project and hopefully it can become a full Linux Open Source library.

Raspberry Pi

There is a new computer on the market called the Raspberry Pi.  I’ve been watching this project for quite some and am excited to see it finally being sold.  The Raspberry Pi was created by the not-for-profit Raspberry Pi Foundation in the UK.

The computer itself comes in 2 different versions, Model A for $25 and Model B for $35.  They are basically the same except Model B includes a NIC port and an extra USB port.

Specs:

  • Broadcom BCM2835. This contains an ARM1176JZFS, with floating point, running at 700Mhz, and a Videocore 4 GPU
  • 256 Mb RAM
  • SD Card Slot
  • USB Port
  • HDMI Port
  • Composite TV Port
  • 3.5 mm Jack (audio)
  • No Power Supply

They have entered into a manufacturing and distributing contract with Premier Farnell and RS Components.  In the US, that means you can get them from Newark and Allied Electronics respectively.  Currently, the Raspberry Pi is being sold without a case, but that may change in the future.

The GPU has H.264 hardware acceleration built in which will allow you to watch high-def movies on it by just hooking up a TV with the HDMI port.

The whole computer is around the size of a business card and runs Linux!  This makes it perfect for our projects around here.